With several key fencers unable to make the journey to Australia, we knew we weren’t going to replicate the fantastic medal haul from the last Commonwealth Championships in 2014. In addition, with all the top Australians involved, a decent turnout from Canada, full strength squads from England and Scotland, and India continuing their rapid improvement, this was one of the toughest fields I have ever seen at this event. All our fencers did themselves great credit and to come away with two bronze medals (Senior Women’s Epee Team and Veterans Women’s Sabre Individual) was a great achievement.
The competition took place in the Australian Institution of Sport in Canberra, which proved an excellent venue and the competition ran extremely smoothly. The only disappointment from a Welsh perspective was that the layout of the hall and the strict rules about only allowing fencers and referees on the floor of the hall meant that our usual very strong piste-side support was confined to the spectator stands. Of course, we still made ourselves heard!! Most of the squad arrived a few days ahead of the competition and had time to get over jet lag, do some light training, and see the sights of Australia’s capital city.
Day 1 saw Heulwen Hill in action in the individual Women’s Foil event, and James Potter, Nathan Potter and Will Jolley fencing in the Men’s Sabre individual. Heulwen had a really tough poule, which included the eventual gold and bronze medallists and the current UK number one! She didn’t get off to a great start, but found her form with an excellent win over Mullins (England) and a 5-1 victory over Chen (NZ). As 20th seed after the poules she was very unlucky to draw the eventual silver medalist (Ayesha Fihosy, Eng) in the L32, and put up a very decent fight, going down 15-9 in the end.
James got off to a great start in the Sabre, winning all his poule fights, and Will also fenced brilliantly to finish V4D1. Nathan had a tougher time, finishing V2D3. All three got byes straight through to the L32, where James defeated Alex Lemaitre (Guernsey) 15-10. Will as 6th seed was unlucky to draw Pitura (Canada) who had found his form after a poor showing in the poule, and the Canadian’s quick circular parries kept him ahead for a 15-10 victory. Nonetheless finishing 17th in his first Senior Commonwealths is an excellent result for Will and hopefully he will do even better next time. Nathan drew James Edwards (Eng), currently 5th in the UK senior rankings. Edwards had bravely decided to fence on despite breaking his hand in the poules, and Nathan was too much of a gentleman to deliberately “rough it up a bit”, so it was a tense fight with Edwards keeping the distance wide and avoiding blade contact and eventually defeating Nathan 15-10.
In the L16 James Potter as 3rd seed could reasonably have hoped for an easier fight than Karan Singh (India), the eventual bronze medalist. James was very much in the fight, taking a lead and going into the break at 7-8, but the Indian changed his tactics after the break and overpowered James 15-10.
Day 1 also saw the first of the veterans events, a very strong Men’s Epee individual with 56 entries. Neale Thomas did reasonably well in the poules, finishing as 18th seed on V3D2. He edged out Keane (Aus) 9-8 in his first DE fight before going down 10-7 to another Australian (Nonis) in the L32.
Day 2 saw Jennie Tillott, Fran Russell and Megan Ware fencing in the Women’s Sabre Individual, with James, Nathan and Will straight back in action for the Men’s Sabre Team event.
Jennie, Fran and Megan all fenced hard and at this level there are no easy wins – they did well to finish with one victory each from the poules and went into the L32 as 24th, 26th and 27th seeds. Fran had a very tough draw against Australia’s Sam Auty, who went on to win the bronze medal. Jennie and Megan also had Australians in their DE matches, and put up good fights against their much higher-seeded opponents, sadly going out 15-9 (to Sian Webster) and 15-11 (to Caitlin Fox-Harding) respectively.
Disappointed by their final results in the individual event, the Men’s Sabre Team were out to prove a point in the team event and got off to a great start against Canada in the L8, leading 30-16 after 6 bouts. The Canadians then staged an almighty comeback, taking them into the final bout 40-39 ahead. Fortunately James held his nerve in the final bout, beating Pitura 6-3 and seeing Wales safely through 45-43 to a Semi-Final against England. Nathan got that match off to a fantastic start with a 5-2 win over JJ Webb, current UK number two, and James held that lead through the second bout, handing over a 10-7 lead. Sadly an excellent leg from Zach Hamilton put England 15-11 ahead, and they never looked back, taking the match 45-28. The Bronze medal playoff against Australia (coached by former Welshman Sam Wells) was a nail-biting affair. James got us off to a brilliant start with a 5-0 win over Will Campbell, but the Australian anchorman, Douglas, pulled it right back to 9-10 in the second bout. Australia took a 15-14 lead after the third bout and built it gradually up to 35-27 with two bouts left. Strong final legs from Nathan and James just weren’t quite enough and Australia took the match 45-40. The disappointment for our boys was immense, having come so close and having put so much hard work and preparation into this event. They fenced brilliantly and should look back with pride on what they achieved, and look forward to the next one in 4 years’ time when I am confident they will finally get that medal they so deserve!
Day 3 saw Jess Gundry, Stella Lancey and Rebecca Thomas in action in the Women’s Epee individual event, with Fran, Jennie and Megan representing Wales in the Women’s Sabre Team later in the day.
Stella had a really tough poule including Mary Cohen (Eng), currently 5th in the GB rankings, and Leo McKinnon (Canada) the eventual Gold Medallist. She gradually overcame her nerves and took one victory, over Wigham (Scotland) to come out as 35th seed for the DE. Rebecca had a better poule, losing only to the current GB number one, Kat Smith-Taylor, and Lee (Singapore); her three wins saw her through to the DE as 16th seed. Jess fenced excellently to beat Sze (Canada) and Lawson (Eng – current GB number two) and three others before losing her last bout to Zhdanovitch, the strongest of the Australians. Stella had a tough L64 bout against Devi of India, losing 15-8, whilst Rebecca and Jess had byes to the L32. Rebecca went out 15-11 to Foniciello (Scot) but Jess held her nerve to beat Lawson again 15-14 in a thrilling match and take her place in the L16 against another English fencer, Julie Henson. Jess fenced aggressively and well, but Henson’s point control was excellent and she managed to neutralise Jess’ attacks and pick up enough singles and doubles to come through 15-11, leaving Jess to finish 10th overall in her first Commonwealth Championships.
The Women’s Sabre Team were drawn against 3rd seeds Scotland in the L8. Scotland were much stronger both on paper (all 4 of their fencers are in UK top 15) and on the piste, running out 45-23 winners, despite an excellent leg from Jennie Tillott beating SJ Hampson (4th in GB rankings) 8-5. This weapon was always going to be a big ask for Wales and the team did as well as anyone could have expected – hopefully they all enjoyed and learned from the experience and will stick at it looking ahead to the future.
In the veterans Women’s Foil event, Lyn Robinson got off to a decent start with V3D3 in the poules, and then produced an excellent DE fight to see off the 7th seed, Kirby (Aus) 10-9, to take her through to the Quarter Finals, where unfortunately she went out to the eventual Gold Medallist, Nutt (Aus), finishing 7th overall.
Day 4 was our biggest day, with four entries in the individual Men’s Epee, and the Women’s Epee Team in action as well. We had high hopes for Marc Burkhalter who had won Gold here in Australia in 2010, and Silver in Largs in 2014, but despite an excellent win over Grover (Eng), the old magic just wasn’t quite there and he finished the poule V3D3. Owen Edwards also finished on V3D3, with an excellent win over Hay (Scotland) and two very narrow defeats against Burnside (NIR) and Vunthu (RSA). Sam Boyle had a tough poule and finished V2D4, with wins over Shelley (Aus) and Treanor (Bermuda). Alex Edwards just didn’t get any luck in his poule, losing three bouts 5-4 and finishing a very harsh D5. All four got through the L64, Owen with a bye, Marc with an exhausting 15-13 win over Simpson (NIR), Sam 15-11 against Pollock (NIR) and Alex with an excellent 15-10 win over the higher-seeded Baker (NZ). Owen produced our sole victory in the L32, with a superb 15-5 win over Bishop (NZ), taking him through to an excellent L16 result. Alex and Marc both lost to Indian fencers in difficult L32 fights, and Sam went out 15-10 to top seed Sanchez-Letham (Eng) despite taking an early lead and possibly having suffered from an accidental scoring error. Owen had a tough L16 bout, putting up a very credible performance but going out 15-10 against Grover (Eng).
The Women’s Epee Team event was undoubtedly the highlight of the week for us. Seeded 6th after the individual event, they started with a very tough L8 match against third seeds India. Jess got us off to solid start in the first leg (4-4 at time), Stella edged us ahead in the second leg, but India pulled it back level in the third and held it level in the fourth. Jess opened up a 23-21 lead at the end of the 5th leg, but India turned that straight around and led 28-24 going into the final three bouts. A fantastic effort from Stella (10-5) took us back into the lead and Rebecca did well to hold the Indians to a single hit in the penultimate bout. Jess went on for the final bout at 34-34, and kept us all on the very edge of our seats as things progressed to 40-40 at the end of the three minutes. The Indians got priority for the extra minute, but Jess got the vital “sudden death” hit to put Wales through to a semifinal against England. A storming start from Jess in the semifinal saw her demolish Henson (her nemesis from the individual event) 5-1, and very canny fencing from Stella and Rebecca saw Wales leading 11-9 after 4 bouts and England looking decidedly worried. A strong leg from Dani Lawson saw England take the lead and they stretched it out gradually, going into the final bout with a seemingly unassailable 22-15 lead. The final bout was a thrill to watch, with Jess giving it everything right up to the final whistle. She out-scored Kat Smith-Taylor 16-12, but time ran out with the score 34-31 to England. Our ladies had almost pulled off an amazing upset, and they took that confidence into the Bronze Medal playoff against Australia. The Australians had the better of the edgy and low-scoring first few fights, and were 14-10 ahead before Jess put in a fantastic 5th leg (14-8 against Gu) to put Wales in the lead 24-22. The Aussies pulled it back straight away, and took a 32-28 lead into the final leg. With Zhdanovitch (who had beaten Jess in the poule the day before) finishing for Australia, it was a huge task for Jess to put Wales back into contention, but she did just that and took the score to 40-40 as the clock ran out. She only needed about 15 seconds of extra time to score the winning hit and send the Wales supporters wild!!! Seeing Jess, Stella, Rebecca and reserve Jennie Tillott on the podium receiving their medals was the highlight of the trip for me, and I am so proud of them for overcoming the odds.
Meanwhile in the Veterans Women’s Sabre event, Emma Waller was also having a fantastic day, winning all her poule fights and smashing her first DE fight 10-0, against Sopru of Australia. She demolished Frith (Scot) 10-1 in the quarter finals, guaranteeing herself a medal. Sadly she was beaten by Du of Australia in the semi final, but was still immensely happy to have taken Bronze in her first Veterans commonwealth champs.
Day 5 saw our individual Men’s Foilists in action, as well as the Men’s Epee team event. Sadly two of our fencers were carrying injuries into this event, Glen Ostacchini having damaged his knee at a World Cup in Bonn a couple of weeks previously and Celyn Lewis with an ongoing back problem. Both fenced well despite this, although Glen was clearly struggling with a very limited lunge. Ethan Ridsdale, fortunately fully fit, also fenced well in his poule, and all 3 of them finished on V3D3, leaving them right in the middle of the seedings for the DE at 16,17 and 18. Sadly that meant that Ethan and Celyn had to fence each other in the L32, with Ethan winning comfortably and getting through to a L16 fight against the top seed, Fitzgerald of Australia. Glen had a nail-biting fight against Aher (India) but couldn’t quite overcome the injury and went out 15-14. Sadly Ethan couldn’t make it past the L16, but should be very proud of finishing 14th overall.
In the Men’s Epee Team Wales started as 6th seeds, facing Scotland in the L8. Owen and Marc got us off to a slow but steady start, with the score 2-2 after the first two bouts. Scotland edged ahead in the third bout, and kept a narrow two point lead through the next four fights, with Marc, Alex and Owen very much keeping us in contention and keeping the Welsh crowd on tenterhooks. A strong penultimate leg from Chris Hay gave Scotland a 28-23 lead going into the final fight, which saw Marc up against Neil Tannock. The old magic had definitely returned, and it really looked as if Burky might pull it off, but Tannock managed to fend off enough flick hits and score a few doubles to hold on to the victory 40-38 as the clock ran down. It was a superb effort from our boys and I am gutted for them – so close!!!
The final day saw Wales up against Canada in the L8 of the Men’s Foil Team event. Canada took an early 10-4 lead, but an excellent third leg from Glen against Scott Dudiak put us right back into the match at 14-15. Ethan also got the better of Dudiak in the 5th leg, to give Wales a narrow lead at 24-23, but the Canadians pulled it back, leading 35-32 into the penultimate fight. A great effort from Glen saw the scores perfectly level at 37-37 as Ethan came on for the last bout against Gavin Hay, who had reached the Quarter Finals of the individual event. Ethan gave it 110% effort, but Hay was just too good, and Canada took the match 45-40. Considering that two of our three fencers were injured, this was a very good score and a credit to the effort all three of them put in.
The week was rounded off with an excellent evening out, and Will Jolley and Owen Edwards did a very respectable job of eating their “new cap” leeks.
This was my first Commonwealths as a Team Manager (rather than a fencer) and it was great to see the newer team members embracing the Welsh traditions of giving 110% on the piste and 120% in support of their team mates. At one point in the Men’s Sabre Team event, our Aussie opponents remarked “you wouldn’t think we were the home team, would you?” in recognition of the amount of noise the Welsh supporters were making!
I would like to finish by saying a massive Thank You to Tom Edwards, my fellow Team Manager, Lesley Gundry for being chief Cheerleader and Taxi Driver, Neale Thomas for his support and coaching to the Epeeists, Fran Russell for sorting out all the clothing orders, and Welsh Fencing for all the preparatory admin work and the very generous subsidy provided for the event. But most importantly, I would like to thank the fencers themselves and the families who have supported them on this amazing adventure.
The next Commonwealth Senior Championships will be in 2022, most likely somewhere in the UK, and I really feel we have the makings of a great squad who could win many more medals.
The full set of Welsh results can be found here: Final Results
Full Results and link to videos of the finals available at cfc18.net
Official photos are on the event Facebook page https://m.facebook.com/CFCCanberra2018/